Despite 16 years of measurable progress, minorities and women have not made significant strides toward economic and social equality with white men, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights reported yesterday.

The conclusion came in a report that commission members hailed as unique in its comparisons between white males - "the most advantaged groups" as well as all women.

Similar studies have generally compared minorites with themselves in a way that hides or distorts inequity, commission Chairman Arthur S. Flemming noted. He said the unusual benchmark of comparison with white males adds the missing link for usable social analysis.

"It gives a standard answer to the old question of Compared to what?" staff member Deborah P. Snow said.

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For example, up to 60 percent of all high school graduates were over-qualified for their jobs, according to the 1976 census figures used in the study, but black males were more than 50 percent more likely to be underemploy than their white counterparts with diplomas.

Minorities and women pay a higher penalty for failing to continue or finish high school or college than do white males, the study found. The 11 percent of all minorities who finish college are likely to earn no more than 85 percent as much as comparably educated white males. Women of all races can be expected to earn less tha 70 percent as much as white men similarly trained.

Women and minority men more often are unemployed, hired in low prestige positions, receive lower annual pay raises and, in disporportionate numbers, live in poverty more than their white male counterparts. These factors often do not change, even when the job qualifications, age and other factors are the same as for white men, the study concluded.

Teen-age unemployment, usually higher for females and minority group members than any other groups, was as such as 5 times that of white males in 1970 for many goups, and went up to over 8 percent in some cases by 1976.

The most severely affected minority groups. Puerto Rican males and black females, were significantly more likely to be jobless than white male teen-agers.

Using the unemployment statistics as an example, the commission noted that, when they are measured as part of the national population, they can be misleading.

"Even when unemployment rates are relatively low, the rates for blacks and other minority groups are typically twice that of [whites]," the report said, adding that the nation tolerates a level of unemployment [for minorities] that would be considered intolerable for the country as a whole.

Females-headed and minority households are still concentrated in inner cities, generally live in rented rather than owned housing, for which they spend more than one-fourth of their income, and live in overcrowded conditions far more often than white male-headed families, the study found.

The commission's three recommendations for presidential action, based on the report:

A directive that all agencies and departments whose programs affect women and minorities review the findings and their implications.

Orders for the administration's reorganization staff to reconsider its assignment of primary statistical policy making authority with any agency other than the Office of Management and Budget.

Planning to overcome deficiencies identified by the commission in federal statistical gathering and use to develop ways of better measuring inequities.

Commission Vice Chairman Stephen Horn called the study one of the most significant the body has done. "It provides an approach that we hope will get into the bloodstream of decision making by the federal government," he said.

Dr. Robert B. Hill, research director for the National Urban League, said the commission's use of white males as the benchmark to measure equality is not unprecedented, but that it has not been done as systematically or in as comprehensive a fashion before. "We think that's good," Hill said.